A Land of Myths, Legends, Crosses & Stones
Here, the sea is omnipresent and twice daily, the natural landscape changes with the ebbing and flowing tides. Over time, the oceans have changed Brittany's shores which are the settings of legends of lost cities, the most famous being King Gradlon's City of Ys, flooded through the fault of his evil daughter, Dahut.
An unfolded map can be rather puzzling until you study the key or legend, which assists you in understanding the signs and symbols. After studying the explanations, everything becomes much clearer and you can set off on your journey. Why not take a similar approach to Brittany? By learning about its legends you can gain a greater understanding of the lie of the land and the lifestyles of the farmers and fishermen. Legends give you a greater appreciation of Brittany’s poetry and culture and teach you to see far beyond mere appearances.
All of Brittany is steeped in legend, it is the perfect destination for anybody wishing to explore landscapes, admire monuments or shiver in delight as they soak up the unseen magic of its legends
What are legends if not unusual mixture of fact and fiction, originating from the distant past? Rational thinking people may well claim these tales are not legitimate, that the facts are dubious, and that tradition has deformed the historical truth. But surely this is not the reason to stop telling these supernatural and magical stories. The power of the imagination and the emotion is just as strong as the power of science and reason .At the same time, you do not need to be an expert in legends to sense the air of mystery that pervades Brittany’s fluid skies and fleeting light, water and forests, stones and fields, megaliths and chapels or castles and keeps.
Armorica is evidently one of Brittany’s most fertile regions as far as legends are concerned. It has a rugged coastline with changing tides, lonely islands and desolate hills and heaths, such as Méné or the Monts of Arrée, which are said to hold the gates to a misty hell. Hoards of Korrigans or elves hide in the undergrowth around forests, lakes, fountains and narrow valleys, waiting to carry you away to their fairy ring. Lost spirits roam the area. These are the spirits of those left behind by the ferryman when he carried people off to the islands of fortune, or those left behind after the Ankoù or Death’s Messenger had gathered up the dead on her creaking chariot.
Whether simple and lively or sophisticated and dramatic; legends are more than an easy escape route to an imaginary world. They hold the keys to a parallel universe, which is sometimes more seductive and comical and at other time frightening and dangerous. So read a few legends and enter the mysterious world that is Brittany!!
Brocéliande and King Arthur
We will start near my cousin’s house at Beignon, a small village with a 16th century church with beautiful stained glass windows, a few kilometres south of Paimpont, as Jean-Michel had been invited to take part in a walking tour around the ancient and mystical forest of Paimpont.
This area is the Fôret de Paimpont (Penpon meaning bridge head in Breton), after the village at its heart, but known throughout Brittany as Brocéliande, pronounced "bro-say-le-aund", (also called Brecilien, Brecheliant, Brekilien). This forest, of startling beauty, is literally the place where legends are made with its pines and oaks, ferns, brooms, heather, gorse and mossy banks, and shimmering lakes. It is also a place of mythology, eerily mystical, as you would expect of a site haunted by magicians and fairies: twisted trunks, undergrowth and silver streams. No matter what the premise – falling in love, performing magic, searching for the Holy Grail – this forest was the setting for many Breton tales and Celtic legends.
Paimpont is a small market town situated deep in the forest beside a large pool and partially hidden by tall trees. It’s origin dates back to the 7th century when a monastery was built and later in the 12th century when it was became an abbey. The abbey survived until the revolution. You should take time to visit the abbey church to see the statues and ornate carvings and frescos. About a kilometre or so down the road is Les Forges de Paimpont, where it is still possible to see the remains of the forges that produced iron between the 16th and early 19th centuries.
This is an area steeped in Arthurien legend, where Merlin the Wizard met his love, Vivian the daughter of
a fairy and a Breton lord, beautiful, intelligent and with her mother’s penchant for magic, where he lived and where he is buried. It is also where King Arthur's wicked half sister, Morgan Le Fay,
retreated to constantly plot his death, and in Sir Gawain, where she seems similarly bent on the destruction of the King and his Round Table. If Morgan were once the queen of death, ruler of the
underworld and of rebirth to the early Britons, a cultural shift could easily have seen her reinterpreted as a powerful demonic force bent on destruction.
Everywhere in Brittany the storytelling begins at Toussaint (November), the Black Month and goes on through December, the Very Black Month, as far as the Christmas story. . . . My mother told the tale of Merlin and Vivien. The two characters are never the same in successive years. Merlin is always old and wise, and clear sighted about his doom. Vivien is always beautiful, various and dangerous. The end is always the same. But my mother, within this framework, has many stories. Sometimes the fairy and the magician are true lovers. . . . Sometimes he is old and tired and ready to lay down his burden and she is a tormenting demon. Sometimes it is a battle of wits, in which she is all passionate emulation, a demonic will to overcome him, and he is wise beyond belief and impotent with it. Tonight he was not so decrepit, nor yet so clever -- he was ruefully courteous, knowing that her time had come, and ready to take pleasure in his eternal swoon, or dream or contemplation. . .
The Knights of the Round Table are a Celtic heritage on both sides of the Channel, though differences have emerged in the recounting of their exploits over the centuries. British authors, such as Sir Thomas Mallory, tended to highlight events in Cornwall while French authors such as Chretien de Troyes, who was born about the time that Geoffrey of Monmouth was publishing his “History of the Kings of Britain”, emphasised those in Brittany.
You will have no trouble finding
attractions such as the Chateau de Comper, owners of which have included the Montforts, the Charettes, the Rieux and the Lavals to name but a few. It is supposedly where the fairy Viviane was born
and brought up by Lancelot (a.k.a. Knight of the Cart) and where she gave Arthur his sword (in her guise as Lady of the Lake). Although it has been destroyed twice in the 14th and 18th century, two
sections of the curtain wall remain, as do the postern and a huge tower that is home to the Centre for Arthurien Imagery - a serious exhibition on the king, his knights and their adventures, open
between April and October. Today it is partially inhabited and partially in ruins, in the grounds of the chateau is the lake where Merlin built a crystal citadel beneath the surface for Vivian and
where the fairies are said to come out at night to see their reflection, today it reflects the image of the château.
Farther into the forest, near the aptly named village of La Folle-Pensee (the Mad Thought) is Barenton Fountain, where water spilling over “Merlin’s Step” is said to unleash wild and violent storms, it is also said that Merlin first met Vivian here. Nearby is Tombeau de Merlin, a megalithic site said to be Merlin's tomb, which the Bretons claim to be Merlin’s everlasting prison -- or asleep with Vivien faithfully at his side according to others, all that remains today is two schist slabs and some holly, the remainder being destroyed by a local landowner in the 1890’s. Here, you will find that the wizard is an international cult figure: his followers come from all over the world to write messages to him asking for his help with personal and professional difficulties. The unfortunate result is a mass of bits of paper in one of Brittany’s most attractive spots.
One of the most striking parts of Brocéliande is the Val sans Retour (Valley of No Return) also known as "The Valley of Faithless Lovers", named after the curse by Morgan Le Fay put on her wandering lover, Guyomard, and on any other unfaithful men who stumble into it. Dominating the valley is the Mirior des Fées and Rocher des Faux Amants (Fairies Mirror and Rock of False Lovers) – legend has it that Morgana the witch cast a spell over the valley that is said to imprison the male adulterers. But those men with a clear conscience should brave Morgana's fury to see L'Arbre d'Or (The Golden Tree), a stunning modern artwork on the charred remains of a tree covered in gold leaf by François Davin in 1990. This tree marks the furthest point of the fire of September 1990. Indeed, the whole of the Forest of Paimpont seems to be under a subtle spell, an eerie, misty timelessness.
Also in the area is Château de Trecésson, a 15th century building of reddish schist, commissioned by Jean de Trécesson, constable of Brittany. It remained in the family until 1773 when it passed to the hands as of Proste de Châteaugiron. During Terror, the deputy of Gironde Defermon remained hidden there more than one year. There is an amazing gatehouse flanked with corbelled turrets that commands the entrance. Unfortunately it cannot be visited, as it is now private property but make the detour all the same just to see the memorable way that it reflects in the lake.
The Golden Tree
The Church of the Holy Grail and the sacristy at Tréhorenteuc with its mosaics and pictures offer a remarkable mixture of Christianity, Druidism & Arthurean Mythology. Outside you will see a statue of Abbé Henri Gillard, who saw no problem with mixing the graal mythos, local legend and the Roman Catholic faith.
The forest is still an important site for numerous groups of witches, both black & white, & druid cult followers all of whom perform rituals in the forest at appropriate times of the year.
To the south of the forest lies the Monteneuf Megaliths located on a moor between Guer and Monteneuf. This site is deemed to be one of the most important in Central Brittany: it is being excavated and restored at present with the help of the engineers from the nearby military college of Coëtquidan.
Two Great Legends
Two other great mediaeval legends are also set in Brittany. The first, Tristan and Isolt, is a tragic tale extolling the virtues of eternal love. The second, The City of Ys that is full of base acts, families torn apart, punishments and curses.
Just like the Arthurian legend, Tristan and Isolt's love story (in which the couple were united by a powerful love potion which they drank by mistake) unfolded on both sides of the Channel has been told and retold through stories and manuscripts over the centuries.
Isolt of Ireland, also known as Isolt, Isold, Iseult, or Ysolde, was the daughter of Angwish, King of Ireland. She was betrothed to
King Mark of Cornwall. King Mark sent his nephew, Tristan, to Ireland to escort Isolt back to Cornwall.
Tristan (Tristram) whose name means "sorrow", given to him because of the loss of his mother at his birth, was a noble knight is said to have come from Leon, and an island has been named after him in Douarnenez. The memory of his uncle, King Marc'h, husband of the lovely Isolt, also hangs over the village of Plomarc'h.
However returning to the legend: Before leaving Ireland, Isolt's mother gave a love potion to Isolt's handmaiden, Brangraine, with strict instructions to keep it safe until they reached Cornwall. It was then to be given to Isolt on her wedding night. Sometime during the voyage, Isolt and Tristan drank the potion by accident and fell forever in love.
Isolt did marry Mark of Cornwall, but could not help but love Tristan. The love affair continued after
the marriage. When King Mark finally learned of the affair, he forgave Isolt, but Tristan was banned from Cornwall. Tristan moved to King Arthur's court and later went to Brittany. There he met
Iseult of Brittany (also known as Iseult of White Hands). He was attracted to her because of the similarity of her name to his true love. He married her, but did not consummate the marriage because
of his love for the "true" Isolt. After falling ill, he sent for Isolde in hopes that she would be able to cure him. If she agreed to come, the returning ship's sails would be white, or the sails
would be black if she did not agree. Iseult, seeing the white sails, lied to Tristan and told him that the sails were black. He died of grief before Isolt could reach him. Isolt died soon after of a
broken heart. Iseult regretted her actions after she saw the love that the two had for each other.
Long ago Gradlon the Great, King of Cornouaille (Cornwall), had the marvellous city of Ys built for Dahut, his daughter. It was known in Breton as "Ker-Is" or “The Fortress of the Deep” and was protected from the menacing sea by strong sea walls as it was below sea level. There was a lockgate to the port, and Gradlon alone would decide when it was to open or close for the fishermen. Now, Dahut, who was deeply attached to the ancient Celtic gods, accused Corentin, the Bishop of Quimper, of having made the town a sad and boring place. She dreamed of a city where only riches, freedom and the joy of living would reign. So, she gave a dragon to each of the townspeople, which captured all the merchant ships at sea.
Because of this, Ys became the richest and most powerful city in Brittany. Dahut reigned as absolute mistress and guardian of Celtic heritage. Every evening she summoned a different lover to the palace, obliging them to wear a silk mask. But the mask was enchanted and at dawn it turned into metal claws, killing the lovers, whose bodies were then thrown from the top of a cliff into the ocean.
One fine day a prince, dressed all in red, arrived in the city. Dahut immediately fell in love with him. Now, it was really the Devil sent by God to punish the wicked town. For love of him, she stole the key to the lockgates from her father while he was asleep, and gave it to him. The prince opened the lockgates and the ocean in all its fury rushed into the town; drowning the horrified cries of the inhabitants.
Only good King Gradlon succeeded in escaping, with the help of Saint Gwenolé (Abbot of Landevennec). On
his horse he waded painfully through the waves, weighed down by none other than his daughter. Struck by Saint Gwénolé, he was forced to abandon his daughter but he managed to reach the shore. To this
very day, when it is calm, the fishermen of Douarnenez often hear the bells ringing under the sea. They say that one day Ys will be reborn finer than ever, because it was only flooded.
The legend says that the City of Ys was in the Bay of Douarnenez. The so called place Pouldavid, a kilometres to the east of the City of Douarnenez, is the French form of "Poul Dahut", the "Hole of Dahut" in Breton, and indicates the place where the princess was flooded into the waves.
It is also said that the city of Ys was the nicest capital of the world and that Lutece was called Paris because "Par Ys" in Breton means "like Ys". Two popular Breton proverbs testify that:
Abaoue me beuzet Ker II
N'eus kavat den par Paris
Since was drowned the City of Ys
Nobody found an equal in Paris
Pa vo beuzet Pari
Ec'h adsavo Ker Is
When Paris will be engulfed
Will re-emerge the Ciy of Ys
During the great March tide, called the Saint Guénolé’s tide, the sea goes out so far that the ruins of a town can be seen; the ruins of a palace; collapsed walls; and the remains of stone causeways linking the Isle of Sein to the mainland.
Other submerged landscapes include Pointe de Castelli near Piriac-sur-Mer, the ancient, mythical forest of Scissy between Dol and Mont-Saint-Michel and the legendary town of Tolente, located somewhere beneath Finistere's Abers. It has also been suggested that a freak tidal wave hit these areas in the early Middle Ages. The dramatic legend of the Roi d’Ys is still popular today and has been depicted by poets and painters. In 1888, Edouard Lalo set it to music, causing audiences to shudder at this tale of chastised vice.
A few characters from Breton Legends
On closer examination, legends seem to be the result of uncontrollable natural forces such as waves, rocks, lakes or forests. Supporting one another or vying for position, these forces push and shove, trying to find their rightful place in nature. Nothing is motionless; everything is shifting and metamorphosing, making its way towards an unknown world, which is just as complex as the visible one. Strange creatures inhabit the void between these two worlds, the most famous being fairies. Sometimes beautiful and benevolent and at other times ugly and evil (and more like witches than fairies) these creatures cast spells with their magic wands and lucky charms. Destiny's mistresses, they sit with the elves and other winged creatures in the trees or at the waters' edge. They gather in nooks and crannies or under rocks, such as the wonderful passage graves near Retiers, known, quite accurately, as the Roche-aux-Fees or Fairy's Rock.
Water sprites are distant relatives of the fairies, albeit less benevolent in nature, and cluster near
rivers and lakes. Mermaids are also related to the fairies, however they prefer to live by the shore. Thanks to its long coastline and countless islands, Brittany is a popular haven for these
beautiful creatures with their long, fine hair and legs bound together in a fish tail. They can be heard singing and can sometimes even be spotted combing their long locks or sleeping on the flat
rocks between the Bay of Fresnaye and Chausee de Sein or between Sept-Iles in Trégor and the Glénan archipelago. After being banished by King Gradlon, the evil Dahut was turned into the mermaid
Marie-Morgane when she came into contact with the salty spray. It is said that she bewitches fishermen in the Bay of Douarnenez and enchants sailors in Iroise, luring them to her underwater palace.
Other evil mermaids are said to entice boats to rocks that smash them apart, or to pull fishermen into the sea, causing them to drown. You could say that mermaids are the chief suspects in every
coastal tragedy or seashore disaster. That is, unless a muscular triton is given the blame.
Brittany's legends feature very few monsters, ogres, vampires or were-wolves. However, they do have a few fire-breathing dragons - fiercely guarding hidden treasures. In the 5th century, evangelists came from the other side of the Channel to slay these dragons. They arrived in Brittany in stone boats that were so basic that they were often mistaken for troughs! Without sails or oars and with very little food, they crossed the 'channel " guided by the grace of God. Scarcely landed, they attacked and killed fierce dragons by tying their stoles around the creatures' necks. This was how Pol Aurelien killed a dragon on the Ile de Batz and how Efflam freed his cousin, King Arthur, near Plestin. The grateful and pious villagers soon considered these heroes as saints. Brittany has dozens of these saints, victorious warriors and faithful guards, such as Saint Ké (or Kenan) who travelled from Wales and landed in Kertugal cove (now part of St-Quay-Portrieux) or Saint Guirec, who landed in Perros.
Thousands of myths throughout
Not so long ago, young girls wishing to marry would stick a hairpin in the nose of the wooden statue of Saint Guirec in Ploumanach. If the pin remained stuck in his nose for a full tidal cycle, it meant that the girl would soon wed. To stop this superstitious practice, the wooden statue, whose nose had been virtually chipped off, has since been replaced by a solid granite version! We could talk of white ladies and ghosts, terrible Lavandières de la nuit, brutal giants, magical creatures and many, many stories involving the devil. Of course, the legends vary greatly from place to place. Take for example, the tragic tale set at the border between Leon and Cornouaille. It involves a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl who had a fateful taste for pleasure. Some versions of the legend say that the girl came from La. Roche Maurice; but all versions call her Katell Gollet (Breton for Catherine the Lost). At the Martyr's pardon, between Landerneau and Sizun, she danced with the devil until she fell down exhausted. Defeated in this way, she was forced to follow him to Hell. Her tragic tale was engraved on roadside crosses in Guimiliau around 1585, and in Plougastel in 1604, in an attempt to encourage young girls to behave with a little more decorum.
The whole of Brittany is steeped in legend and the region is the perfect destination for everyone wishing to explore landscapes, admire monuments or shiver in delight as they soak up the unseen magic of its legends.
Nymphs and water sprites abound in Breizh, making their homes near freshwater rivers and lakes. Mermaids
- beautiful, fishtailed women - on the other hand are said to live along the coast in the shallows and seaside coves. Their harmonious songs can be heard between Saint-Cast and Quiberon, or on the
islands between Bréhat and the Gulf of Morbihan.
Les Sirènes - mermaids - are somewhat pleasant and have been known to save people, although they have a penchant for strong young men who they take a fancy to and lure to a watery grave!
One particular sea-sprite, Mari-Morgene with her naked body and long blond hair, entangled with seaweed, particularly liked young, strong fishermen, pulling them under the waves to live lives of ease in palaces of coral and diamonds. Local people still talk of these sea fairies or sprites and consider it to be unlucky to walk the shore alone at night lest a Morgane be encountered.
Unable to adapt to the underwater environment, the fishermen soon drowned. Be careful! Some mermaids can
be extremely evil, causing ships to smash against rocks or dragging children from off the shore and into the sea.
The famous Fairy Melusine was part sea serpent and part woman.
She was happily married to a human nobleman, and even bore him several sons -- until he saw her taking a bath in her true, half-serpent guise. Off the Pointe des Espangnols near Brest a fisherman was given a cup of sweet-smelling nectar by a mermaid. In it was a magic potion that would cause him to forget his sweetheart back on land, and follow the mermaid forever. Just as he brought it to his lips, he heard the sound of the church bell toll and he threw the cup into the sea. The love potion spread over the waves, which is why the sea tastes salty today.
The valley of Goel was a celebrated haunt of the Korrigans. In earlier times it was thought dangerous to pass through it at night lest one should be forced to join in their dances, and thus perhaps lose your life. One evening, however, a peasant and his wife thoughtlessly did so, and they soon found themselves enveloped by the dancing sprites, who kept singing;
Fairies, Korrigans, Lutins, Terusts, Le Bugel-Noz & The
In Celtic mythology there is no mention of particular Gods as with the Greeks, Romans and Nordic peoples. There is no hierarchy or God for a specific purpose and the stories take place in earthly locations. Nowhere in Breizh there is there a place without a legend. Breton fairies - who are the equivalent of what the Irish call "little people" - are claimed to be nasty little things with apparently no redeeming qualities unlike their Irish counterparts. This may come from their representing an older religion than Christianity and objecting to the pious nature of the Breton people!
Les Fées - Every grotto, fountain, chateaux, church porch or ruin has a fairy, who, so it is said lives in morsels of soil. They are usually very pretty. Every marsh has a fairy called either Gerlen or Ar Helern, the fairy of the marsh. The many standing stones in Brittany are the haunts of the fairy Margot. There is one important Margot and other collective ones to complicate matters! Margot has been known to be kind and has demolished stones at Saint-Jacut-de-le-Mené to make a table called La Table à Margot.
The fairy Mélusine with her beautiful long blond hair, which she studies in a mirror, has her face sculpted in the south door and glass of the Saint-Sulpice Church in Fougères. The Bretons adopted her, as she was once the daughter of a King of Albania, who she killed and thus was condemned to being turned into a serpent every Saturday night. Apparently she gives loud cries to warn her compatriots of danger.
Le Groach or Vielles Fées are not so pleasant and have a few nasty little tricks to play and in one case this is where the phrase "bite the hand that feeds you" literally applies, and this one is got rid of by putting dead magpies around its haunt.
The whole of Brittany swarms with obliging and facetious little pixies, hiding away underground with their hoard stolen coins, beating noisily on basins, and generally being a terrible nuisance, never more so than around Morlaix. No other area shelters so many such creatures, and indeed, they are more numerous than fairies. These mischievous gnomes generally resemble small humans under two feet high and come in different shapes and sizes, depending on their country of origin. They are said to have been very important princesses or druidesses who were opposed to Christianity when the Apostles came to Brittany and refused to be converted. They hate priests, churches and particularly bells, which cause them to run away. They consider the Virgin Mary their greatest enemy, as she was responsible for chasing them away from their fountains. It is said that on Saturday – the day consecrated to the Virgin Mary - anyone seeing them combing their hair or counting their treasures will die.Many of us, when we speak of them will assure you that they and their kind are pagan princesses of Brittany who would have none of Christianity when the holy Apostles brought it to Armorica, and who must dwell here under a ban, outcast and abhorred.
They can predict the future, take on any shape and move location at the speed of the mind. They, like
sirens and mermaids, sing and comb their long hair. They haunt fountains and wells despite being chased, hiding beneath rocks, in the undergrowth, in fields or near menhirs and dolmens, most of them
- indeed the liveliest ones - are known as Korrigans.They delight in doing wicked deeds, causing household arguments, and shrieking so horribly that the sound curdles milk and turns beer sour.
Another of their traits is a fondness for stealing human children and substituting them with changlings. On All Hallows Eve they are to be found lurking around dolmens, waiting for victims.
Never let a Korrigan breathe on you, as its breath is deadly. They have the power of making men fall in love with them but the poor man dies when they disappear. They have beautiful hair and red flashing eyes.
These little Breton gnomes are a bit mixed up and always asking the day of the week at their regular secret dances as they have forgotten all days but Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. They are quite mischievous and bad.
Lez y, Lez hon,
Bas an arer zo gant hon
Lez on, Lez y,
Bas an arer zo gant y.
these mischievous little creatures are called Viltansou and are best avoided.
Let him go, let him go,
For he has the wand of the plough;
Let her go, let her go,
For she has the wand of the plough.
It seems the man had in his band the fourche, or short stick, which is used as a plough-paddle in Brittany, and this was a protection, for the dancers made way for them to go out of the ring.
When this became known, many persons having fortified themselves with a fourche, gratified their curiosity by witnessing the dance of the Korrigans. Among the rest were two tailors, Peric and Jean, who, being jovial fellows, dared each other to join in the dance. They drew lots, and the lot fell upon Peric, a humpbacked red-haired, but bold stout little fellow. He went up to the Korrigan and asked permission to take share in their dance. They granted it, and all went whirling round and round, singing:
Dilun, Dimeurs, Dimerc'her.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.
Perle, weary of the monotony, when there was a slight pause at the last word, added
Ha Diriaou, ha Digwener.
And Thursday and Friday.
Mat! mat! (Good! Good!) They chanted, and gathering round him offering him his choice of beauty, rank, or riches. He laughed, and only asked them to remove his hump and change the colour of his hair. Hearing his request they immediately took hold of him and tossed him up into the air, throwing him from hand to hand till at last he landed on his feet with a flat back and fine long black hair.
When Jean saw the change in his friend he decided to see what he could get from the potent Korrigans, so a few evenings later he went and was admitted to the dance, which now went to the words as enlarged by Peric. To make his addition he shouted out,
Ha Disadarn, ha Disul
And Saturday and Sunday.
"What more? What more?" cried the Korrigan, but he only went on repeating the words. They then asked him what he would have, and he replied riches. They tossed him up, and kept throwing him about till he cried for mercy, and on coming to the ground, he found he had got Peric's hump and red hair.
It seems that the Korrigan were condemned to this continual dancing, which was never to end until a mortal joins in their dance, and after naming all the days of the week, adds, Ha cetu chu er sizun, "And now the week is ended." They punished Jean for coming so near the end and then disappointing them.
Their cousins, Les Lutins and are equally troublesome, tipping people off bicycles for instance. - In the
case of a man who had an argument with his mother in law, the local Lutins protected mothers-in-laws. The Lutins take different forms and character traits depending on where they live and make a
nuisance of themselves. They have different bonnets depending on the region. For instance at Plusquellec, the Lutin is an old man with a beard who scares children but at Plusquelec the Lutin is a dog
who hides under a candle lit bench who is scared of children. In some areas the Lutins take on the form of black chickens, white horses or goats. They hang around cross roads and little paths and are
quite mischievous - putting salt in soup, rolling barrels around greniers and making fun of lovers.
Even more sinister are the Teurst, large, black, and fearsome, like the Highland Ourisk or lubber fiend, who haunted the deserted moors and glens. Then there is Teursta Poulict that appears in Morlaix in the guise of domestic animals. Around Vannes is a colossal spirit known as Teus or Bugelnoz, appearing between midnight and two in the morning, dressed all in white. Their purpose is to rescue victims from the devil, and should he spread his mantle over them they are secure from the Father of Evil. The Devil comes over the ocean; but, unable to endure the look of the good spirit, he sinks down again, and, the object of the spirit accomplished, he vanishes.
With the onset of summer they become more mischievous and playful, always on the look out for ways to torment the unbelieving. Some of them even slip into houses, playing tricks and making mischief, or causing great commotion to frighten the owners. In Lower Brittany,
Then there is the Bugel-Noz (Child of the Night) a faerie spirit who lives in the woodlands. He is the last of his kind and is said to be incredibly ugly, a fact which causes him distress. His appearance is so awful that even woodland animals avoid him, and he sometimes cries out to warn humans of his approach, so that he won't frighten them. Though not malicious (indeed, rather kind and gentle), he is always alone because of his hideous visage.The name differs dependent on where in Brittany he manifests himself. However it is known for him to take on the appearance of a choirboy in Bulat-Pestiven and when galettes are made, descend from the ceiling holding lantern, eat all the galettes and drink all the Lait Ribot. He is said to cry like a child at night in other areas.
In the wilds of the Monts d'Arée between Morlaix and Kemper, near Ty Aryun, you are likely to meet some
very nasty manifestations, Kannerezed noz “Lavandières de la Nuit” who if a human discovers them washing shrouds at night and refuses to help them is dragged into the water, his arms broken, wrapped
tightly in a shroud that crushes him and empties his body of blood. Between sunset and sunrise, night washerwomen (or henchmen of the death), who haunt the countryside, working all night washing,
pressing and airing shrouds as a penance for their earthly sins.
Needless to say I have never seen or heard any of these creatures, but have many a story about them!!
In the Demonology of Brittany, the devil is often likened to an imp. Bretons do not refer to him as Satan or Lucifer, or even as the Devil or Mephistopheles. Instead, they call him Polig or Gwilherm, Yannig an Aod (meaning Johnny from the coast), or in Lower Brittany, An Diaoul. He makes his home in rocks and mills or under bridges, and traces of his antics can be found anywhere from Mont-Dol to the River Étel. He plays rotten tricks and casts evil spells and is often associated with hell. Due to his evil presence, the hand of the Eternal God is particularly powerful in this region.
The relationship between the Bretons and death is profoundly influenced by the Celtic heritage, and
surrounded by many legends and rites of passage.
So perhaps there is no spirit of evil which is so much dreaded by the Breton peasantry as the Ankou, who travels about by night, picking up souls, and seats them in her cart. She is not an incarnation of Death itself (as death is a state not a being), but acts rather as Death's messenger. All skin and bones, the emaciated Ankou wears wooden clogs on her feet and on her head a black, wide-rimmed hat with a floating ribbon, and in her right hand she carries a scythe with an inversed handle. In the dead of night she drives a creaking chariot that is pulled by a strong, sturdy horse down the silent lanes accompanied by two footmen. It halts at a door. The summons has been given, a soul quits the doomed house, and the wagon of the Ankou passes on. The deathly convoy - known as Karriguel an Ankoù - stretches far into the distance across heaths and sunken lanes. If you hear it coming, quickly take cover, as those who have seen it up close have not lived to tell the tale. The grim Ankou, powerful Reaper of Souls, assists death in its task.
She spares no one but carries away the rich and poor alike. In Breton, these dead souls are collectively referred to as Anaon and Bretons fervently pray to the saints to protect them. They are handed over to the ferryman who takes them single-handedly in his boat to the remote islands in the West, where they sleep for eternity. The boat is loaded up in the Baie des Trépassés, and can be easily recognised by its speed and the fact that it has no wake. Worse still, the nightly convoy may turn towards Arrée, with its Yeun Élez peat bogs, near Brasparts. That is where Youdig is located - one of the gateways to frozen hell known as an Ifern Yen. The ferryman's boat, Lestr an Anaon (Boat of Death), is not to be confused with the night boat bag-noz. Often spotted in Scotland and Cornwall, this ghostly boat also sails the waters near Sein, loaded with lost souls. Similarly to the famous Flying Dutchman, if you manage to overcome your fear and approach this boat, it will vanish into thin air. Many souls are called to leave this world at the start of November during the Celtic Samain festival that used to mark the new-year. It is said that the last person to die in each parish every year becomes Ankou for the next year.
Closely associated with nature and tellurian forces, giants are dangerous beasts, often terrorising ordinary people. They have colossal strength, but are often dull witted and unable to differentiate between good and evil. Brave and agile knights welcome the challenge of fighting them, looking out for opportunities to outwit them.
In Brittany, as elsewhere, giants are often associated with rocks. It is said that they set the megaliths in place, created Brittany's rocky chaos and shifted the islands into position. The most famous giant of all was Gargantua who features in many mediaeval and Celtic legends. Rabelais exalted some of his exploits and he is particularly well known between Saint-Malo and Erquy.
This jovial and resourceful giant was born in Plévenon and lived on the Fréhel heaths, roaming today's Emerald Coast. A menhir in Saint-Suliac, is said to be one of his teeth. In Pleudihen, he flattened a hill with his heel, enlarging the Mordreuc ria. After a thousand adventures in a hundred different places he was tricked and killed by the devil. He is buried near Saint-Cast, his head resting near Fort La Latte and his feet at the edge of the Rance.
Hoc'h Braz is a famous giant from Finistere who started to walk at the early age of three months. Shortly after his christening, he made his way along the rocks to Huelgoat. His godmother's diamond ring slipped off his finger into the abyss below, but he managed to stretch his arm down to the bottom and recover it.
One evening in Landerneau, he caught the moon in his teeth and hung it on the bell tower of the church at Saint-Houardon. He was then driven by thirst across Brest harbour. He bent down to drink and accidentally swallowed a ship. Half choking, he ran to the Arrée hills.
The Nine Virgins of Sein
On the Island of Sena, lived a very small population of men and women in the village. Nine of these women were not like the others. They did not live in the borough and refused attentions of the menfolk as well as refusing money. They were known as the New Gallesinae.
It was said they that they were very beautiful and that they lived in perpetual virginity. It is said that they went into the sea to meet men, but on their return to the island, their primitive virginity returned.
They were known by far and wide for their knowledge. They were erudite in art of curing the incurable, and the driving out of demons. Their songs, so it is said, could, at will, cause storms more violent than hurricanes, or calm the most mountainous seas. They could change the winds, the rain and the currents. The most solicited was most erudite, a very beautiful young woman: Velléda.
They worshipped a former God, venerating him as the Creative Entity, who had the name Oiv. This god lived in Keugent, the exterior circle and only he could live in that world. They also worshipped Dana, the Nourishing earth, the mother of all living things, mineral, vegetable or animal, so present on Sena; Lug, representing the Light and the Truth; Belen, the symbol of the Solar Spirit and the disc blazing necessary to all lives; Esus, representing the Lightning and the alive force; Ogmios, representing the Verb emblem of the eloquence; and finally Gift, symbol of the burning Sea.
They were the girls of the goddess Dana and thought that the force of Oiv was in each piece of what flies like the birds, runs like the hinds, goes like the man, crawls like the snake, jumps like the grasshopper, germinates like the grain, grows like the tree, rolls like the roller, falls like the rain, heats like the sun. Druidesses, Priestesses, Mistresses of the door between the two Worlds, they had the capacity to take the shape of all the alive things under the protection of Dana. They could thus fly in the sky, swim under water or stagnate out of granite.
Their existence has not been attested to on Île de Sein for several centuries now, but New Gallisinae left such a mark in each rock, each piece of grass that one can smell their presence now in the 21st century. Their legend forms integral part of the island and makes it possible to better include/understand the natural and instinctive respect of Sénans towards nature and the sea.